US President Barack Obama has defended a new military deal with the Philippines, emphasizing that he is not seeking to contain Chinese military might. The comments came on the last leg of his Asia tour.
Addressing reporters in Manila, on Monday, US President Barack Obama waved off criticism and concern of a new military deal with the Philippines which will see the expansion of US deployment to the island nation. US Ambassador Philip Goldberg and Filipino Defense Minister Voltaire Gazmin signed the agreement just ahead of the Obama's arrival.
"I want to be very clear - it will not reopen US bases. It is an agreement to enhance our defense relationship," Obama told reporters in the Filipino capital.
The 10-year-pact will allow the US military greater access to bases across the country and increase the number of personnel stationed there at one time. However, the troops are to be on a steady rotation, meaning they will not have a long-term presence at any one military facility.
Ahead of the press conference, Obama told ABS-CBN News in a written interview that the cooperative effort would enhance the nations' ability to "train, exercise and operate with each other and respond even faster to a range of challenges, including humanitarian crises and disasters like Typhoon Yolanda."
The United States' presence dwindled in the Philippines - a former colony - in the early 1990s with the closure of its military bases. The re-emergence of US military influence in the Pacific nation has concerned some, including left-wing activists who staged protests in front of the US Embassy ahead of Obama's visit.
'Goal is not to counter China'
Obama said that the increased number of US troops in the Pacific region did not mean the US wanted to contain China's growing military might or interfere in territorial disputes.
"Our goal is not to counter China. Our goal is not to contain China. Our goal is to make sure international rules and norms are respected and that includes in the area of maritime disputes," he told reporters in Manila, adding that the US welcomed "China's peaceful rise."
The Philippines has found itself, along with other Asian countries, in a territorial dispute with China. Since 2012, the Chinese military has begun exerting influence over two separate sites off of the Philippines' northwest coast, both of which are rich fishing grounds.
"We don't even take a specific position on the disputes between nations but as a matter of international law and international norms we don't think that coercion and intimidation is the way to manage these disputes," Obama said. "We don't go around sending ships and threatening folks."
Obama has focused on security concerns during his "pivot" toward Asia tour, including a hotly contested set of islands in the East China Sea to which both Beijing and Tokyo lay claim. During his visit to Japan late last week, the US president reaffirmed Washington's obligation to Tokyo under a bilateral defense pact, were China to launch an attack on the islands.
kms/pfd (AP, AFP, Reuters)